Crusaders' 2013 front row must stay healthy

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 11/11/2012
Owen Franks
Photosport
OWEN FRANKS: The prop faces extra pressure at the Crusaders this season following the departure of his brother Ben.

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OPINION: Anyone looking to poke holes in the Crusaders squad named this week may unearth some dividends when assessing their backup crew.

Although Todd Blackadder's starting side could include up to 11 current or former All Blacks, it is the layer below where Richie McCaw's sabbatical and the exodus of Ben Franks, Quentin MacDonald and Sean Maitland will impact.

Franks' decision to link with the Hurricanes puts more pressure on Wyatt Crockett and Owen Franks to survive the season.

While the policy of rotating props in recent seasons has been canned - and applauded by Crockett and Franks - it also robs the Crusaders of the prospect of allowing their big men to recover from niggling injuries.

Newcomers Nepo Laulala and Joe Moody impressed the Canterbury selectors during the NPC, but the adjustment to Super Rugby is difficult, as they will face international props of the calibre of Tony Woodcock, Charlie Faumuina, Ben Franks, Jannie du Plessis, "Beast" Mtawarira, Coenie Oosthuizen, Dean Greyling and Benn Robinson.

Last year Blackadder's rotation policy ensured only the Franks brothers and Crockett were selected.

Nick Barrett, the fourth prop, was never used.

Unlike the Chiefs, Hurricanes and Blues, who have grabbed five props for 2013, the Crusaders have listed just four.

This places more expectation on Laulala and Moody to ensure they quickly adjust to the big time.

Blackadder will also include Tasman's Sam Prattley and Canterbury's Paea Fa'anunu as his two props in the five-man wider training group.

Quentin MacDonald's switch to the Blues has disappointed his supporters from the Tasman region.

Good enough to be selected in the Maori All Blacks for this month's tour of the United Kingdom, and even mentioned as a bolter for the All Blacks squad, the hooker has been cast adrift by the Crusaders.

MacDonald's ability to create mayhem as a ball runner is what he enjoys. But it seems the Crusaders lost patience with this.

They asked him to get his hands dirty in rucks, but their requests were not properly heeded.

In letting MacDonald go Blackadder has put his faith in the inexperienced Ben Funnell and Codie Taylor.

Although 31 and in possession of a fat medical file, incumbent rake Corey Flynn will slap anyone suggesting his career is in decline. Yet it seems inevitable Funnell or Taylor will be seen sooner, rather than later.

The durable Matt Todd has proved a capable lieutenant when McCaw has nursed foot and concussion issues in recent seasons.

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With McCaw not expected until early July, Todd may struggle to play every round and star Tasman rookie Shane Christie could be seen in the No 7 jersey.

While Scotland-bound wing Maitland lost form at the tail end of this season and was replaced by Adam Whitelock, the loss of his experience erodes the squad's depth.

To win a Super Rugby crown coaches require a mixture of X-factor, enthusiasm and luck.

This year the Crusaders got a massive dose of fortune when they surged into the playoffs without losing any of their major signings to injury.

A repeat prescription of that medicine would be welcomed next season as they seek to break a Super title drought stretching back to 2008.

- The Press

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